Clean Monday, Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday – What’s It All About?

Pancake celebration Salisbury Cathedral

Pancake celebration Salisbury Cathedral

Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Western Church. “Shrove” is the past tense of the word “shrive,” which means to hear a confession, assign penance, and absolve from sin. Shrove Tuesday is a reminder that we are entering a season of penance.

Shrove Tuesday is also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras (which is simply French for Fat Tuesday). In Italy, Fat Tuesday is known as carnevale-goodbye to meat-from which we get our English word carnival. Traditionally people held one last rich feast, using up perishables like eggs, butter and milk before the fast of Lent began. Now in some places, like New Orleans, this has become a huge celebration that really has nothing to do with the beginning of Lent.

For many however this is still a significant day. Many churches hold pancake suppers, often as a way to reach out to their neigbours. You can find a great collection of recipes and traditions from around the world for Shrove Tuesday in Fat Tuesday Recipes.

For Eastern Orthodox Christians the fast has already begun. Clean Monday, the Monday before Ash Wednesday, is the first day of Great Lent. It is a reminder that we should begin Lent with good intentions and a desire to clean our spiritual house. It is a day of strict fasting for Eastern Catholics and orthodox, including abstinence not only from meat but from eggs and dairy products as well.

The following prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian is a common prayer used during this season.

O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter. [kneel/prostration]

Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience, and love. [kneel/prostration]

O Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother; for You are blessed now and ever and forever. Amen. [kneel/prostration]


Resources for Pentecost 2012

He Qi pentecost

Pentecost by Chinese artist He Qi

Sunday May 27th is Pentecost. This is the day when we celebrate:.

  1. The coming of the Holy Spirit and the infilling of Jesus’ disciples with the power to go out and change the world
  2. The great multi cultural gathering that we catch a glimpse of as we watch the spirit fall and suddenly everyone is able to understand each other – not all speaking the same language but able to understand each other in their own languages.  Acts 2:11.
  3. Pentecost is traditionally the time that many churches pray for the peace of our world in which at times there seems to be so little cross cultural understanding.

Each year I like to add to my resource list from the previous years so that this becomes a rich array of helpful suggests for everyone. So what kinds of resources do we need?  First I think we need to provide our congregations with resources that help them to see Jesus from other cultural perspectives.  In a visual society like ours art is one very powerful way to do this.  Liturgy is another powerful tool because as we read the words aloud they resonate deep within our souls and take root.

Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity still has the best collection of art from different cultural contexts – not just European, Asian, African, South American, Middle Eastern, Australian and Celtic but also other more unusual perspectives – goth, alien, feminist and tattoo.  We may not agree with all these perspectives – after all how many of us can relate to Jesus as a Cyclon – but it important for us to see the different ways that people perceive if we want to “understand them in their own language”.

The Text This Week has one of the best online collections of links to Christian art I have come across – all indexed according to Biblical/liturgical subjects.  They also provide an interesting list of movie clips that correspond to biblically related themes as well as a rich array of other resources on Pentecost

Another great collection of pentecost art is available at Biblical Art on the WWW

In terms of Pentecost liturgies there are endless possibilities out there so please don’t expect this to be a comprehensive list.  My own liturgies from past years are

A Prayer for Pentecost

A Liturgy for Pentecost

Others that I have enjoyed browsing this year are:

The Worship Well with great resources mainly from Australia & New Zealand always provides wonderful liturgical resources for the seasons including these excellent Pentecost resources

re:Worship has a very rich array of resources available – make sure you take time to follow the links provided to songs, liturgies and videos.

If you are looking for alternative approaches to worship  for this season I would heartily recommend Jonny Baker’s worship tricks

Steve Taylor a – sustain:if:able kiwi is another very creative worship leader.  I love his Ascension Day suggestion – the footprints of Jesus


Second Wednesday of Advent – More Great Resources

One of my challenges during the Advent season is which devotional to use and which scripture series to follow.  This year I have had so many options that I have tended to go from one to another.  Which is probably not good as this is the season that sets the pattern for the coming year.

To be honest I hesitate to recommend books, CDs and other resources too because I struggle constantly with the tension between becoming just another consumption driving machine.  On the other hand I know that reading, listening and reflecting do all expand our understanding of God, grow our faith and hopefully equip us to be more engaged as God’s compassionate response to our needy world.  And as someone who reads 3 – 5 books a week I obviously have an addiction that needs to be fed.  So having said all that I am still going to recommend some more great resources.

One of the best books I have come across recently is Joan Chittister’s The Liturgical Year. She talks about the liturgical year as

an adventure in bringing the Christian life to fullness, the heart to alertness, the soul to focus.  It does on concern itself with the questions of how to make a living.  It concerns itself with the questions of how to make a life…..

The liturgical year it the year that sets out to attune the life of the Christian to the life of Jesus, the Christ.  It proposes, year after year, to immerse us over and over again into the sense and substance of the Christian life until, eventually, we become what we say we are – followers of Jesus all the way to the heart of God.  The liturgical year is an adventure in human growth, an exercise in spiritual ripening.  (p4 & 6)

For this and other great liturgical resources visit my favourite independent bookstore – Hearts and Minds Books And they are not just my favourite because Bryan likes my books.  I love the personal knowledge of what is in the bookstore and the personal help that people like Bryan are able to give.

The other resource list that is worth a look is from  They have just published a great Ultimate Christmas Resource List! with some worthwhile suggestions on it.

So if like me you are addicted to reading, writing and reflecting here is some more great material to delve into.

What Is Lent Anyway?

We already have 12 people signed up to join us for the journey through Lent and Easter, many from non liturgical backgrounds that have not taken the seasons of the church calendar seriously before.  Some are asking What is Lent anyway? Consequently I thought that it would be good to give a quick walk through the seasons for the uninitiated.  Today we will look at Lent and tomorrow I will post on Easter

Chapel at Bishop's House Iona - Holy week 2005

Chapel at Bishop's House Iona - Holy week 2005

Lent is a 40 day period before Easter that commemorates the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. In the early church this was a time of preparation for those about to be baptized. Today it is more often regarded as a season of soul searching and repentance for all Christians when we prepare for the joy and celebration of Easter by giving ourselves an annual spiritual check up. It begins with Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday.  (The Thursday before Easter)  If you are a good mathematician you probably realize that there are more than 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday.  That is because early Christians never fasted on  Sundays.  They are are excluded from the days of Lent because they are always celebrations of Christ’s resurrection.

The temptations of Christ parallel those of the children of Israel in the wilderness but how different are his responses. The children of Israel were dissatisfied with God’s provision of manna. They remembered the rich foods from their captivity in Egypt and greedily hungered for more so that their physical cravings could be satisfied. (Num 11:4-36) Christ saw his physical hunger as unimportant and trusted in God to provide for all his needs. At Massah the Israelites demanded miraculous signs that revealed God’s presence, totally ignoring God’s constant and miraculous care for them.(Ex 17:1-7). Jesus refused to test God by the use of miraculous signs. The Israelites fashioned a golden calf to worship but Christ turned his back on temptations of worldly wealth and power. Each time he is tempted by Satan, Christ deliberately turned away from the attractions of a self centered and self serving world in order to place God’s purposes and the outwardly focused values of God’s kingdom at the center of all he was and did.

Lent is a time for “confrontation with the false self” (Thomas Keating) when we reflect on the responses and behaviours we exhibit that are least Christ like and seek God’s help in rededicating ourselves to God and God’s purposes. This is a time for self-denial and fasting when we give up some of the comforts of our lives in order to make ourselves more available to God.

Traditionally, Lent is marked by penitential prayer, fasting, and alms giving. Some churches especially in the Orthodox tradition, still observe a rigid schedule of fasting on certain days during Lent, especially the giving up of meat, alcohol, sweets, and other types of food. Other traditions do not place as great an emphasis on fasting, but focus on charitable deeds, especially helping those in physical need with food and clothing, or simply the giving of money to charities. Most Christian churches that observe Lent at all focus on it as a time of prayer, especially penance, repenting for failures and sin as a way to focus on the need for God’s grace. It is really a preparation to celebrate God’s marvelous redemption at Easter, and the resurrected life that we live, and hope for, as Christians.

Interestingly the concept of spring-cleaning emerged from the practice of Lent. This was the time of year in Europe when one cleaned house – first physically and then spiritually. I love this idea of connecting our daily lives and routines to the seasons of the church calendar.  However what we “sweep out” or give up at this season should be more than food. It could be soccer or TV or social commitments. We might discuss with our families ways to give up our busyness and focus on the truly important things of God. The time we free up can be used for special prayers and Bible readings, for spiritual retreats and for involvement in local or overseas mission that enables us to focus beyond ourselves and onto our responsibility to those who are hurting and in need.

During Lent it is as though we join Jesus in his walk toward Good Friday and the crucifixion. Our self denial is a way to enter into the fellowship of Christ’s suffering so that we can identify more fully with those who are chronically hungry, oppressed, in pain or in need. This year as we walk towards the Cross may we invite God to make us aware of those things that distract us from a wholehearted commitment to God. We may want to gather up all those things we are aware of that vie for our attention and literally nail them to the Cross.



Today marks the last official day of the celebration of Christmas culminating with the Feast Day of Epiphany this evening which celebrates the coming of the wise men.  However this does not mean that our celebrations are over.  We are now entering the season of epiphany which is a season that commemorates the revelation of Christ.  Three events are usually associated with the season

  • The coming of the Magi and the revelation of Christ as Son of God to all the peoples of the world
  • The baptism of Christ and his revelation of Christ as Son of God to the disciples and the crowds that came to John the Baptist at the river Jordan for repentance.
  • The wedding at Cana where through the transformation of water into wine we catch the first glimpse of God’s new world of celebration, joy and abundance.

This is a season in which we are encouraged to come and see, come and follow, go and tell others.  As followers of Christ we are invited to reveal him to others so that they too might recognize him as Son of God and experience the hope and freedom that his message brings.  I think that this is also a season to broaden our vision to remind ourselves of the many ways in which Christ is at work in our world – we need to look and listen for God’s voice and come and see the things that God is doing not jsut in our own churches and communities but also amongst the poor, amongst the oppressed, amongst the marginalized and ignored.

God is actively at work in our world if we will take the time to come and see, come and follow and go and tell others. Later today I plan to upload liturgies for morning and evening prayer during the season of epiphany I find that using prayers like this helps me to focus on Christ and the responsibilities that go with being a follower of Christ.

How are you responding to God’s call at this season and how do you plan to remind yourself of this call?

Alternative Celebrations

the MSA team is thinking of putting together a celebration calendar for the next year.  We would like to highlight ways to celebrate the ordinary events of life – not putting emphasis on the negative but on the positive & giving them a Christian focu

Here are a few examples that we have thought of – Pentecost as a multicultural feast, Make Something Day (thanks to Ecclesia Collective rather than Buy Nothing day, Advent II Homecoming – feasting into the kingdom, and Stations of the Kingdom rather than Stations of the Cross.  We also want to highlight events like the Mutunga Challenge and  Prayer for Children at Risk Weekend. If you have any suggestions of events or ideas from celebrations you have held that you think should be incorporated we would love to hear from you.

Pentecost is Coming


The day of Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. I wanted to get in early with this because I have some suggestions on things to do at the end that you might like to think about as some of them need some preparation.

As the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples the barriers of language and culture were broken down. This festival draws us beyond the resurrection to remind us that through the coming of the Holy Spirit we become part of a transnational community from every nation, culture and social strata. At Pentecost we are reminded that this kingdom of God community is one in which, in spite of our cultural differences through the power of the Spirit, ours eyes are opened so that we can appreciate and understand each other. This community embraces rich and poor, male and female, slave and free. This kingdom of God community is a place in which we treat each other as equals, with mutual love, care and respect.

Pentecost also reminds us that the coming of the Spirit of God unites us as a single family with the poor, the homeless, the disabled, the oppressed & the abandoned. This is a time when traditionally churches prayed for peace between nations. It is also a time when we encourage each other to be reconciled with those we have been separated from because of lack of cultural understanding.

Take Action

1. During the season of Pentecost find out about how different people experience God. Visit some churches of different traditions and of different ethnic backgrounds. Afterwards have lunch at ethnic restaurants that you don’t normally frequent.

2. Ride the bus to work and try to talk with fellow passengers from other ethnic backgrounds and religions.

3. Get together for an international feast. Ask each person to bring a dish from another culture as well as a prayer or a hymn from that culture. Start the evening with a time of storytelling about your experiences either in another culture or as a result of working with people in other cultures then

Whichever of these activities you engage in take some time afterwards to reflect on the following questions:

· In what ways do you help to break down barriers & foster understanding between people of different cultures?

· In what ways do you discriminate against others who are part of God’s international community

· Because of race, class, gender or colour?

· Because of culture, disabilities or body type?

· Because of intellect or educational differences?

· This season calls us to identify with those who are less fortunate than we are & to be willing to sacrifice our own comfort in order to attend to their needs. Ask yourselves: What does it mean for us to be drawn into community with the poor & the abandoned in our society?